Amy Tan and The Valley of Amazement

I have loved every one of Amy Tan’s books from her very first book The Joy Luck Club which was published in 1987 and made into a film in 1993.  When I saw the gorgeous new cover of her latest book I swooped on it.  I think the cover should win a prize in itself it is so luscious.

The novel The Valley of Amazement continues with Tan’s usual themes of mother-daughter relationships and american-chinese cultural differences.  This is the story of three generations of women and begins and ends with Lulu’s infatuation with a young Chinese scholar who visits her family in San Francisco.  Seventeen year old Lulu heads off into the unknown on a ship bound for Shanghai, pregnant and with no promise of marriage from her Chinese lover Lu Shing.  After a tragic incident with Lu Shings family, Lulu ends up running a high class courtesan house in Shanghai to make ends meet and this is where her daughter Violet, half chinese and half american, grows up.  Violet’s story is no less dramatic than her mother’s and through Violet we learn about all the skills and customs of the high-class courtesan, as well as the intricacies and misogynism of the chinese culture.  

I was thrilled to be back in Amy Tan’s world and especially enjoyed the descriptions of life in a courtesan house.  About halfway through the novel my interest started to waiver but things picked up again towards the end where some of the gaps in the story are filled in.  I don’t know if this was Tan’s intention but all of the male characters are depicted as either weak, duplicitous or untrustworthy, which often made me wonder why Lulu and Violet were prepared to give up so much for them.  Then again, in the early 20th century there may have not been many alternatives for a women living in China, so isolated from her family and without any means of support.